During his first three years at Temple University
, Matt Mahoney would often have a tough time finding the opportunity to complete his homework assignments at a decent hour.
Mahoney, a member of the men's soccer team, logged over 1,700 minutes on the pitch for the Owls last year. That total didn't remotely approach the amount of hours Mahoney and his Temple soccer comrades spent in traffic between campus and the Ambler (PA) Sports Complex – where the men's and women's squads practiced and played their home games. On a good day without traffic, the student-athletes could expect trips of 45 minutes each way. And let's not talk about the commutes on bad days.
"Last year and the years before, we only had time at night to be able to complete our homework," said Mahoney, a senior defender now in his second season as a team captain. "We had to get all our classes in and get our treatment done before heading off to Ambler. We would leave campus at 2 p.m. for a 3 o'clock practice. We didn't get back until 7 o'clock at night at the earliest – then we'd have to eat before we could start our homework. So it was a bit of a struggle."
Such was the life for a Temple University
soccer player. In fact, that was how it went for the soccer players for the last decade. But that life is now a thing of the past.
Temple students returning to school this fall couldn't help but notice the new Temple Sports Complex just south of the main campus.
Temple student-athletes who will be calling Temple Sports Complex home couldn't help but pinch themselves when the facility officially opened its doors in mid-August.
"This place is awesome," Mahoney said. "This opens up so many doors now for Temple and the community. The community can come out to watch us. The students can come out to watch us. For us, it opens up our whole afternoons. Instead of five-to-six hour round trips to Ambler, we're done with our two-hour practice, we can get our treatment and we can get some of the classroom time that we need – which helps a lot.
"It's an amazing feeling to call this field home. And it's incredible that we can now be an entire community of student-athletes. At Ambler, we were separated from the other athletes. Now that we're together, we'll be able to see each other's games and become closer than we were before."
It has been referred to as a "game changer."
The new $22 million Temple Sports Complex – the home for both soccer teams, the field hockey team, the women's lacrosse team, the women's track and field squad and the university's cross country teams – features two playing surfaces. The northern field, located on Master Street near Broad, is the Owls' home site for soccer, cross country and the Dan and Shelley Boyce track. The southern field – named Howarth Field in recognition of a gift from former field hockey student-athlete Cherifa Howarth – is located at the intersection of Girard and Watts. Howarth Field is the home for Temple field hockey and lacrosse.
Both fields include stadium seating, a digital scoreboard and a press box. The property was built on the site of the former William Penn High School.
"To be honest with you, it's a game changer," said Marybeth Freeman
, who is in her second year at the helm of Temple's field hockey program – and is a five-time NCAA Division I champion as a player and coach. "To have a stadium with a state-of-the-art surface for us to play on is really top caliber. This is one of the premier locations in the city to play. To say that we are playing on one of the best surfaces in the country – let alone the city – is pretty spectacular."
The field hockey team had played its games on campus at Geasey Field. While the field itself was fine, it lacked the amenities the new sports complex offers.
"Jumbotron scoreboard … the beautifully placed stands … a wonderful seating capacity … the state-of-the-art press box … the whole aesthetics of our field … it's up there in the country as being one of the best facilities," Freeman said. "And when you have that, it gets a lot of people's attention. And when you're getting the attention of high-profile recruits or making fans out of individuals who weren't fans before because of this wonderful complex we now have, it's tremendous. This is one more way to continue to move the program in the right direction.
"We're right on campus, so to have this stadium environment for our programs – soccer, field hockey, and track – it's spectacular to be able to have that."
Amenities are great for student-athletes. Some things that you take for granted, though, are bigger than that.
"I honestly think I undervalued what the sports complex would do for our program," said women's soccer coach Seamus O'Connor
, who is beginning his fourth year at Temple. "I knew it was a huge upgrade, but I didn't quite calculate how big of an impact it would have on our program. The girls now have a place where they can team bond. They never had a place they could call their own before.
"We never had the opportunity to spend so much time around lacrosse and field hockey. For female athletes, that's huge. It's so important that they get the opportunity to hang around with other female athletes. You see us coming off one field, and field hockey is coming off theirs, and the girls can share each other's misery of how tough preseason is, and how hot it is, and all that kind of stuff. That bonding going on is something we never had. I think the girls appreciate it, and I appreciate it. The relationships that they are building with other athletes is something that should help them in their future."
And the same can be said for coaches being able to bond with their coaching brethren.
"It just feels like an athletic department now, if that makes sense," O'Connor said. "Everyone can see each other now; before, we didn't know each other as much. Now, it really is a Temple sports family. I'm really proud of the sports complex and I'm really grateful for what they did."
For the better part of this decade, Temple student-athletes have been the beneficiaries of numerous improvements on campus. Dr. Patrick Kraft
, Temple's athletic director, and his predecessor – Kevin Clark – have worked toward providing a better quality experience for university students.
Kraft said the sports complex was a huge piece for the university. Most importantly, from a student-welfare standpoint, the men's and women's soccer programs were finally brought on campus.
Kraft also talked about the continuing partnership the athletic department has with the general student population. While the Temple sports programs will use the complex during the day for practice and for home games, the university's recreational sports department will have access at night for intramural and club sports.
"It provides another asset for Rec Sports to use, which was really needed," Kraft said. "It's great for us, but it's also a great partnership with campus. We both are benefitting from this new facility."
The Temple Sports Complex is the latest in a series of missions designed to enhance the student-athlete experience. Other projects completed in recent years have included:
- Construction of new locker rooms and enhancements to facilities for all of the school's athletic teams.
- Upgrades to athletic training and strength and conditioning facilities.
- Expansion of the Nancy and Donald Resnick Academic Support Center for Student-Athletes.
- Renovation of McGonigle Hall (women's basketball/women's gymnastics, fencing, volleyball) and the Liacouras Center (men's basketball and some women's basketball).
- Academic space and other enhancements to Edberg-Olson Hall, home of the football practice facilities.
- New Women's Gymnastics Practice Facility
- Renovation of East Park Canoe House, home of men's crew and women's rowing (Completion Date – Fall 2016)
- Indoor Golf Training Facility (Completion Date – Spring 2017)
"In the last three and a half years, we have really focused on facility projects," Kraft said. "Whether they were enhancements to the Olympic sports weight room, enhancements to every single one of our sports locker rooms, or growing our academic space, it goes back to what I keep telling everyone: 'Think bigger.'
"Our goal has been and always will be to provide the very best for our student-athletes, and this speaks to that. The complex is beautiful. The setting is fantastic. At night, you can see the city skyline in one direction and campus in another direction. This is another positive in the continuing evolution of our program. This complex is the most outward sign of 'Wow, look at what's happening here.' "
Along with the welfare of current student-athletes, all of the capital improvements and facility upgrades play into recruiting as well. Kraft said Temple University
can now offer up the types of facilities to prospective recruits that will match the school's high academic standards.
"All of these improvements give our coaches another selling point and another element that they can use to recruit the best student-athletes possible. It continues to speak to who we are as a University," said Kraft.
Next up is the unveiling of the renovated East Park Canoe House, the once and future home of the school's men's crew and women's rowing teams. The boat house – which fell into a state of disrepair and was last operational in 2008 – is slated to be reopened later this fall.
The historic building along the Schuylkill River on Kelly Drive is more than 100 years old. The restoration is being led by the city, which committed $2.5 million toward the project. The Lenfest Foundation, founded by Temple Trustee H. F. "Gerry" Lenfest, committed $3 million toward the restoration.
"Restoring the boat house is very important. We continue to work with the city and are close to getting that finished," Kraft said. "This will provide our student-athletes with a top of the line facility. I'm proud of where our men's crew and women's rowing programs are heading, and the boat house is critical to their continued success."
The canoe house, which was originally designed by renowned architect Walter Smedley, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Fairmount Park Historic District.
"When our boat house opens, we'll be one of two schools in Philadelphia (along with the University of Pennsylvania) that will have its own boat house," said Temple crew coach Brian Perkins
– a two-time Dad Vail champion rower as a member of the Owls (1988-1992). "Rowing is huge in Philadelphia. There are countless high school teams, there are 14 or 15 different clubs that are neither high school nor college nor Olympic, and there are six varsity men's rowing programs. Yet we'll have a place of our own.
"The impact on our program is going to be huge. When I was rowing here in the '80s and '90s, we shared the boat house with three other scholastic programs. Now, the building will just be ours. We're very excited about that."
The working conditions for the rowing and crews teams have been, shall we say, antiquated. The teams were set up in tents, and student-athletes didn't even have the use of bathrooms; they had to use porta-potties. The crew and rowing programs had expensive equipment that was stored and covered in old army tents.
The coaches have been very involved in the planning of the boat house. Of course, the structure has to house boats and keep student-athletes safe and dry and clean. But the coaches also assisted with the design of the little things – such as the direction boats should be pointed and how oars should be stored.
"Having bathrooms, electricity and running water to keep our equipment clean and a place to call our own – that's going to be huge," said Rebecca Grzybowski, the women's rowing coach. "The team has done a phenomenal job dealing with an adverse situation, but the boat house is going to be a great addition to what we've been working on.
"My first order of business when we get in there is to put up a picture of the tents in the locker room just to remind our athletes that we've done a lot – and what we've now been given. We've created a lot of opportunities for ourselves. But I don't think we'll fully comprehend the impact it's going to have on our program until we get in there. So we're really excited to see what it does for everybody."
And in a few short weeks, they'll be able to once again call East Park Canoe House home.
"We have kids on our team who have literally never set foot in a boat house," Perkins said. "Now they'll have a home to call their own. This will obviously be great for morale, it will be great for recruiting, and it will be something we can hang our hat on and call our own."